A black police officer has been found guilty of murder after he fatally shot an unarmed white woman from his patrol car as she tried to report an alleged rape.
Mohamed Noor, 33, was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing 40-year-old Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual US and Australian citizen, outside her home near Minneapolis in 2017.
The incident drew international criticism, including from Australia’s prime minister, who called the incident “shocking.”
Noor was acquitted of second-degree intentional murder.
He is expected to face a 12-year prison sentence for the murder charge and four years for manslaughter when he is sentenced on June 7.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said: “This was a tragic shooting that did not have to happen and should not have happened.
“It does not give us pleasure to call out police wrongdoing.”
Freeman said it marks the first time a police officer in Minnesota was convicted of murder. The guilty verdict has sparked questions about whether race played a role in the conviction.
It is rare for police officers to be convicted after asserting they opened fire in a life-or-death situation, but some Minnesota community members said they saw it coming for Noor because he is Somali American.
John Thompson, an activist and friend of Philando Castile, a black man who was killed in 2016 by a Latino suburban police officer who was later acquitted, said: “Officer Noor was going to jail no matter what, because he’s a black man who shot a white woman in the state of Minnesota.”
Alana Ramadan, an African American and Muslim who has called for the resignation of Hennepin County’s head prosecutor, said the African American people she has spoken with knew Noor would be convicted.
“It’s almost like there’s no hope,” she said.
Freeman dismissed the idea that race played a role in the case.
“That simply is not true,” he said.
“Race has never been a factor in any of my decisions and never will be. We look at each case based on the facts and the evidence and the law that’s in front of us. And I will stand by what we have done.”
On the night of her death, Noor and his partner drove to Damond’s home to respond to her report of an alleged sexual assault outside her house.
When Damond approached the patrol car, Noor fired a shot across his partner through the passenger-side window to kill her.
Noor testified in court that he shot Damond in an act of self-defence after he and his partner Matthew Harrity, who was driving, heard a loud noise.
Prosecutors questioned whether the “bang” actually happened, and attacked Noor for not seeing a weapon or Damond’s hands before he opened fire.
The shooting led to the resignation of Minneapolis’ police chief and the creation of stricter police body camera policies, after Noor and his partner failed to turn on their body cameras and provide video evidence to investigators. They turned the cameras on during the aftermath, which included their attempts to save Damond with CPR.
Damond was engaged to be married that summer and owned a life-coaching company, according to her personal website.
Her father John Ruszczyk said the decision reflected the community’s commitment to the rule of the law, sanctity of life and the obligation of the police to serve and protect.
The verdict “strengthens those pillars,” he said.
Noor is among the many Somali immigrants who settled in Minnesota after coming to America due to civil war in his home country. His hiring was celebrated by city leaders eager to diversify the police force in a city rich in immigrants.